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Baseball: Hitting an early issue for Riverhead

It’s way too early to proclaim judgment on Riverhead’s pitching-by-committee approach. A mere two games is hardly enough of a sample size.

By the same token, it’s too early for the Blue Waves to panic about their offense, which hasn’t scored a run and produced only six hits in those two Suffolk County League II baseball games. At the same time, though, it is a cause for concern.

“We need to score more runs,” Riverhead senior Chris Atkinson said. “We haven’t scored a run in our first two games. We just need to be more effective when we have runners in scoring position.”

Sachem North’s Connor Pietrowski pitched a one-hit shutout Saturday when the Flaming Arrows beat Riverhead, 5-0. Ben Cutrone had the sole hit.

Then, in Riverhead’s home opener Wednesday, the Blue Waves did a little better, managing five hits, but went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position in a 10-0 loss to Sachem North at Pulaski Sports Complex.

“The past couple of days of practice, we have been prioritizing hitting, but the baserunning was a little shaky today,” Riverhead senior Nick Dejewski said. “It kind of got us into trouble and it left a couple of runs off the board.”

Riverhead doesn’t have a starting pitching rotation. Instead, the Blue Waves are experimenting with the concept of having starters go through the opposing team’s batting order no more than twice before running in relievers. The idea is to keep hitters off-balance by showing them different looks from the mound.

“I like it because it gives our guys a lot more chances to come into the game and be effective,” said Atkinson, who worked two innings of relief in the season opener and started Wednesday.

Dejewski, who started the opener, allowing one earned run in four innings, first heard about the idea during the winter when coach Rob Maccone pulled him aside and told him they were going to do something “different” this season.

“I kind of had mixed feelings about it,” Dejewski said. “I saw the potential it gave us as pitchers, kind of a buffer zone. If you’re struggling, you know that you’re going to be taken out.”

Things started off well enough for Atkinson Wednesday when his strikeouts were responsible for Sachem North’s first four outs. The righthander escaped a bases-loaded jam thanks to a double play in the third, but a fielding error to start the fourth proved to be Riverhead’s undoing, setting up four unearned runs. Jake Pierre (4-for-5) slammed a two-out triple for the first three of his four RBIs and later scored on a wild pitch bounced in the dirt for a 4-0 lead.

Before the inning ended, Max Heilman had replaced Atkinson, who allowed five hits, walked two, fanned five and hit two batters. Marcus Brown and Isaiah Barbieri also pitched for Riverhead.

Sachem North posted three-run rallies in the sixth and seventh innings. Pietrowski knocked a two-run double and Eric Maldonado contributed an RBI double in the sixth. More RBI doubles followed in the seventh, by Dylan Kelly and Pierre, who came home himself shortly after on a wild pitch.

Sachem North starter Lou LaRocco was tough. The senior righthander had one walk and three strikeouts through six innings before Matt Ingraffia worked a four-batter seventh to complete the shutout.

Sachem North turned in some nice defense, too, not the least of which was a reflexive bare-handed grab by first baseman Maldonado of a wicked hop off Jose Santana’s bat for a groundout.

Powerful wind gusts made every fly ball a challenge for fielders.

“You still got to make the plays,” Maccone said. “They made the plays, right?”

Now, back to that pitching thing.

“The pitching is not our issue right now, so I guess from that aspect, it’s working,” Maccone said. “[Atkinson] would have went into the fifth if that was a clean inning, and the same with Dejewski; he would have went into the fifth on Saturday if we weren’t down 3-nothing. So, the pitching seems to be working. We’ll keep tweaking it as we go. We can’t get a hit with runners in scoring position. That hurts, that kills, and we make untimely errors that always cost us.”

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Photo caption: Riverhead senior Chris Atkinson was victimized by four unearned runs before exiting after 3 2/3 innings. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)